One of the last moves Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abbadi made, before his visit this week to Washington DC, was to retire 300 plus Iraqi defence ministry officers. According to a statement issued by the prime minister's office, this move was  part of the restructuring of the Iraqi army to make it more effective in confronting threats facing Iraq's national security.

On Monday, a Pentagon report suggested that ISIL has lost control of "25-30 percent" of the territory it holds in Iraq after sustained US-led coalition air strikes and an Iraqi offensive.

Both the Iraqi PM's move and the Pentagon's assessment raise questions about the Iraqi government's strategy to defeat ISIL. Five Iraqi political and military analysts speak to Al Jazeera about the best strategy to defeat ISIL.

Sajad Jayad, Iraq analyst, Al-Bayan Centre for Studies and Planning - Baghdad


The Iraqi government is primarily focused on the military effort to defeat ISIL but not enough on other elements such as tackling local politics and issues, ideology, funding, and freedom of movement for foreign fighters.

In the past months the government has done well to push ISIL away from Baghdad and secure Babylon and Diyala provinces as well as large parts of Salahuddin. The major operations ahead are in Anbar and Nineveh, with Mosul being the most challenging of all.

So far, the various elements involved in the battles, including foreign advisers from the US and Iran, have been managed well by PM Abbadi. But the long-term threat from ISIL will only be contained if the conditions that enabled ISIL to gain ground quickly are addressed.

Groups like ISIL thrive on chaos and where government services have broken down, so Iraq needs to prevent such conditions from appearing again in the future.

This requires the government to do the following: Increase recruitment of local people into armed forces, legislate for the National Guard to begin operating by the end of year and integrate tribes and paramilitary groups into it so they can manage local security, increase investment and employment in Anbar, Nineveh, and Salahuddin provinces so as to increase prosperity and prevent ISIL from using cash to recruit people.

The government need to operate more efficient intelligence services, better equip and resource the interior and defence ministries, weed out corrupt and inefficient officers and tackle any sectarian systematic abuses.

Also disrupt ISIL financing networks by tackling corruption and solidifying local government control in the provinces, increase security for minority ethnic and religious groups to prevent future targeting, and secure borders with Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

It needs to pressure regional countries to ban hate speech and radical ideology, and be more proactive in preventing travel of suspected ISIL fighters. Begin a process of civilian reconciliation programmes that encourage peaceful coexistence.

The biggest challenge after the military campaign will be to reinstate the rule of law and afford citizens an environment where they feel safe and loyal to the state. Groups like ISIL thrive on chaos and where government services have broken down, so Iraq needs to prevent such conditions from appearing again in the future.

Emad Belou, head of the Republic Centre for Strategic and Military Studies - Baghdad

The recent battle to recapture Salahuddin showed a significant shift in the Iraqi government's policies to defeat ISIL. In the past, there was no coordination between the various Iraqi troops, including the ground forces and the air force, and no professional preparations ahead of the battles. However, the battle to recapture Tikrit proved a turning point. One important development was that weeks before the operation began, logistical support was available and supply routes were secured. 
The Salahuddin battle, however, exposed a lack of coordination between Iraqi security

The Iraqi government should reappoint some of the former officers of Iraq's former army who have a clean record and greater field experience which would be useful in battling the fighters of ISIL.

officials and the leaders of the popular mobilisation forces (a mutli-sect force). This force consists of several armed factions and each has its own vision about how to run the battles which caused a large number of casualties among the force.
So having the popular mobilisation forces report directly to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Prime Minister Abbadi, was a good step to keep them in check. More discipline is still needed and the regular security commanders should be given a bigger role to coordinate the work between the two sides [the regular and irregular Iraqi forces].
Another step would be to increase the firearms. The Iraqi army has a small numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles including the Abrams and T72 tanks and these are very important, especially in winning the forthcoming battle in Anbar, in addition to intelligence gathering equipment such as drones.
The Iraqi government should revise the mechanism with which it appoints the security officials to reduce the corruption, which is rampant in security institutions, and reappoint some of the former officers of the Iraq's former army who have a clean record and greater field experience which would be useful in battling the fighters of ISIL.             
Luay al-Khatteeb,  executive director, Iraq Energy Institute , non-resident fellow, Brookings Institute

Expelling ISIL from Iraq is only a matter of time. On the short term strategy, it is only possible to 'degrade and destroy ISIL' by having well-trained and equipped national forces on the ground, supported by effective air strikes and intelligent capabilities.

On a long term strategy, the conflict in Syria must be resolved to stop the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq, while national reconciliation within Iraq must be achieved.

Since September 2014, Prime Minister Abbadi's government has worked hard to fast-track the rebuilding of the Iraqi army by identifying the institutional weaknesses and implementing viable resolves, regulate the Popular Mobilisation Units [PMUs] under the Ministry of Defence, and reaching out to other Iraqi factions, tribes and minorities to recruit volunteers for the PMUs.

This was a genuine effort to demonstrate diversity and national inclusiveness and has led to the recapture of Tikrit while working to retake other provinces under ISIL's control.

Moreover, Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] are now coordinating with the Kurdish Peshmerga and the international coalition air forces and advisers, to curb the advances of ISIL and to eventually retake the northwestern part of Iraq including Mosul.

The success of the ISF in claiming back oil fields and facilities previously under ISIL control, has helped in degrading the group's capabilities and cripple its oil smuggling activities and economy.

The fact that ISIL has resorted to extreme measures against its own followers, adopting a scorched earth policy - by burning oil wells and destroying heritage and archaeological sites - is a clear manifestation of how desperate the group has become. Also, it has been reported that most ISIL leaders in Iraq have fled to Raqqa in Syria with their families. This is not a strategy of a group that plans to 'stay and expand'.

With around 40 percent of its fighters of foreign origin, ISIL is not a domestic issue for Iraq and Syria any more. This is a global epidemic that requires real cooperation between various international interlocutors to put an end to it before it's too late.

Salah Nasrawi, journalist and commentator - Cairo

A joint Iraqi army, Shia militias, Sunni tribes and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, backed by the US-coalition air strikes may be able to beat ISIL and reclaim major cities lost to the group in 2013.

But a military victory over ISIL is unlikely to address the larger problem of ending Sunni Arabs' exclusion and reintegrate them into the Iraqi state. Sunni political and tribal leaders who are collaborating with the Shia-led government represent just a small percentage of the community and there is simply no getting around the fact that when the dust of this war settles, Iraq's Sunni-dominated provinces will still have the vote.

To avoid a relapse, Iraq needs a much larger effort than the Shia-led government or the outside world have so far pledged. The US-backed plan to create a mostly Sunni National Guard to police the Sunni areas and set up a more inclusive government fell short of the mark.

Sunni political and tribal leaders who are collaborating with the Shia-led government represent just a small percentage of the community and there is simply no getting around the fact that when the dust of this war settles, Iraq’s Sunni-dominated provinces will still have the vote.

The problem of the disputed areas including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, captured by Kurdish forces during the turmoil initiated by the ISIL onslaught last year, should also be peacefully resolved and the Arab population be allowed to return to their homes.

Therefore, a viable, effective and comprehensive strategic road map for national healing, peace maintaining, reconciliation and state building is required. Iraq's three main communities should be encouraged and even pushed to make such an effort.  

In this case, a historic compromise has to be found in order for all the communities to subdue competing sectarian and ethnic resentments, forestall the escalation of the conflict, and fend off the break up of Iraq.

To help secure the long-term stability of Iraq and reunite its people, such a proposal would need to go beyond the immediate communal and regional agendas. It would have to be a genuinely grand bargain for a new Iraq.

In 2009, I personally proposed a blueprint to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders for a historic deal that would allow the rival communities to put their political, sectarian and ethnic cleavages aside, abandon their past prejudices and seize the chance for national reconciliation.

In the present circumstances, I find the historic compromise an approach that can mark a break with Iraq's present dilemma and the tragedies of its recent past.

Shia Muslims should make an offer the Kurds and Sunni cannot refuse. The Kurds should stop exploiting the Shia-Sunni divide to advance their independence agenda and commit themselves to address the challenges of building a better and shared future.

Sunnis should also shelve unrealistic demands and accept a generous autonomy that would link them with the Shia Muslims and Kurds in developing a national identity broad enough to give them equal power in the country.

Zaid al-Ali, author of the Struggle for Iraq's future

Significant progress against ISIL has been made. Tikrit is the first major urban centre where ISIL had consolidated its control, to be recaptured by Baghdad. There is also little question that the trend will continue. ISIL thrived on the weakness of its enemies. 

As those forces regroup and reorganise themselves, ISIL will not be able to withstand so much pressure and will eventually be forced to withdraw from all major urban centres in Iraq. 

Having said that, Baghdad continues to face a number of major challenges. The first is that it does not

Baghdad's other major problem is its communication strategy. The war against ISIL depends in large part on communicating the right message to Iraqis and to a broader audience. Baghdad is conscious of this but is struggling to cope.

control many of the actors that are supposedly fighting on its side. Various militias and other armed groups are participating in the fighting and do not answer to any centralised form of command. 

There was a plan to allow local fighters to control Tikrit after it was retaken from ISIL. Thousands of local officers had been gathering and preparing to put that plan into action for a period of months.

And yet, when Tikrit was finally recaptured from ISIL, irregular militias and other unidentified individuals moved into the city and looted much of the town. Many homes and shops were burned. Baghdad's plan failed and it was powerless to remedy the situation. 

Ultimately, Baghdad has sufficient tools to remedy this situation. Despite a budgetary crisis, it controls the purse strings which gives it significant leverage over the groups on the ground. 

Baghdad's other major problem is its communication strategy. The war against ISIL depends in large part on communicating the right message to Iraqis and to a broader audience. Baghdad is conscious of this but is struggling to cope. 

It has even unnecessarily exacerbated the problem by putting out statements that are clearly contradicted by the facts. Baghdad claimed that all irregular fighters had withdrawn from Tikrit, but people in the city confirm that many, possibly even thousands, still remain.

Also, although major fighting in Tikrit ended some time ago, the city's residents have no clarity on when they are likely to return. The government has not been informing people, most likely because it still does not have a real plan of its own.  

Source: Al Jazeera